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Concorde Victims Honored in Germany

August 18, 2000

COLOGNE, Germany (AP) _ Joined by Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, relatives of the 113 people killed in the Concorde crash gathered Friday in Cologne’s 750-year-old cathedral and were asked: Has mankind reached too far?

The peal of church bells rang out as relatives of the victims trailed Schroeder into the vast gothic cathedral, Germany’s largest. Schroeder met with the relatives privately before the service.

Some 1,500 mourners attended the hourlong ecumenical service led by the Cologne bishop and the head of the German Lutheran Church. One theme ran throughout the service _ encapsulated in a question by the Cathedral’s priest, Bernard Henrichs: ``What are the limits of what is possible?″

The question has haunted the relatives of those who died since the supersonic jet crashed shortly after takeoff outside Paris last month, killing all 109 aboard and four on the ground. The airline industry also has had to confront the reality of investigators’ findings that the crash was caused by a burst tire.

Air France, which owned the crashed Concorde chartered by a German tour group setting off on a luxury cruise through the Caribbean, has not returned the jets to service since the crash. British Airways also grounded its Concordes this week.

Both countries, however, have said they are committed to getting the plane back in the air.

But no determination of cause or official certification that the jets are safe can comfort the loved ones, religious leaders said.

``Whatever the experts’ investigation and journalistic research may reveal ... does not answer the question, ’Why?‴ said the head of the Lutheran church in Germany, the Rev. Manfred Kock.

``Why this plane exactly, and why these people exactly? All of the technical explanations will not undo what has been done.″

Standing beneath the cathedral’s ornate stained glass windows, Cologne’s bishop drew a sharp distinction between technological advances that honor God and those meant to glorify mankind.

Bishop Friedhelm Hofmann cited an advertising sign at the Basel airport that reads: ``We are building heaven on Earth.″

``When we truly try to replace the reality of heaven by building an earthly paradise, death will always tear us abruptly from our illusions,″ he said.

By contrast, Hofmann said the mourners could find comfort in the cathedral’s graceful spires: ``In building this church, our forefathers turned our gaze toward heaven through this manifestation of earthly beauty, harmony and legitimacy.″

This crash _ and other modern tragedies, like the crash of a high-speed train in northern Germany two years ago that killed 101 people and a bomb explosion at a Duesseldorf train station three weeks ago that injured 10 immigrants _ create feelings of hopelessness, the bishop said.

``We feel caught off-guard, abandoned and overtaxed,″ he said.

Among the mourners were travelers who opted not to take the pricier Concorde across the Atlantic. Kennith Dixon, a Briton who retired in Cologne, said he didn’t know any of the people who died but found comfort in the ceremony.

``I came here just to pay my respects to them, even though I didn’t know them, and as a symbol of thanks that I was not on the plane,″ he said.

Not everyone who attended the service, which included hymns sung by the Cologne Boys Choir, was receptive to the religious leaders’ questions.

``I was a bit angry about what they said. They tried to build up a heavy doom-and-gloom atmosphere. This is not the way to help the survivors,″ said Eberhard Francesco-Lorenz, an opera singer from Cologne.

``The question, `Why does it happen?′ makes no sense. The better question is, `What does this mean for our daily lives?‴

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